University of Law to bring in aptitude test for its BPTC

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Oral and written test will be introduced next year


The University of Law is to launch a new aptitude test to restrict entry onto its Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC).

The test will feature a 40-minute opinion writing section, a five-minute advocacy assignment and a face-to-face interview with a barrister designed to gauge students’ commitment to the bar and understanding of what is expected of them. It is to be introduced from next year. Candidates will also be assessed on their prior academic achievements.

Course designer Lynda Gibbs, who the University of Law brought in from Kaplan in May, told Legal Cheek that the test is “designed to attract the best students who will have the best chance of getting pupillage”.

After a bright start, the respected Kaplan BPTC — whose aptitude test has been Gibbs’ model — failed to prove sustainable as top students began to shun the law school in favour of discounted places at rival providers. But the refusal to take candidates who didn’t have a hope of getting a pupillage — a practice indulged in by other BPTC providers — won Kaplan lots of goodwill, and for a while saw it develop a high end reputation as the place to be for wannabe barristers.

Clearly, the University of Law is hoping it can enjoy this upside, with its much bigger scale than Kaplan — in the UK at least — potentially giving it better insulation from setbacks.

But some commentators have suggested that the test could be a strategy to deal with what many see as a declining market, with BPTC numbers expected to fall in the longer term as a shrinking criminal bar sees pupillages become even scarcer.

Reacting to the news, UCL legal academic Professor Richard Moorhead told Legal Cheek:

“The voluntary shrinking of the BPTC may reflect underlying economics or a longer term bet on the significance of the bar qualification in domestic and world markets. Or both.”

But Gibbs disputes this argument, pointing out that BPTC enrolment numbers have remained fairly constant over the last few years despite falls in pupillages.

“This not an acknowledgement that we are expecting numbers to fall,” she said.

There were 438 pupillage registered in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics are available. In the same year, 1,732 students enrolled on the BPTC. Over the last five years, BPTC enrolments have remained broadly the same, while pupillages have dropped by around 20% (in 2008 1,749 students enrolled on the BPTC and there were 562 pupillages).



All this exam will accomplish is a further revenue stream for providers with “exam prep” publications & courses.



I disagree – it’s important that the profession (whether that means the providers, the inns or the barristers themselves) find some way of increasing the likelihood of BPTC graduates turning their qualification into pupillage. If that means making the course harder to get on to, and reducing the number of people on the course, so be it. God knows the BCAT has been supremely unsuccessful.



That’s just perfect! I can understand what they are trying to do, but for those wishing to join the bar, don’t they think it’s hard enough as it is?! Not only do you need to do a monumental amount of mini pupillages, and experience and pro bono and mooting and still get good grades, but you need to pay out so much money that as students, we don’t really have. They seem to put up more boundaries every single year, the BCAT, the interviews, the applications, it goes on and on. Now, without any word or warning, they suddenly, 2 months before applying, spring on students this bombshell! When do they plan to do them? If it’s during term time, good luck with that. What kind of opinion writing? Will it be legal or general. We have no way to prepare for this and I think it is very sneaky to do this now when the 2015 applications open in November. it’s just another thing to discourage people, yes, maybe the right people, but for those who really want to be at the bar, surely their applications give them ample opportunity to demonstrate their determination or the fact they are willing to just hand over a lifetime’s worth of money? I just think they could have done this at a much better time, with proper warnings. Don’t they think it’s already competitive enough with 1500 applications and only 700 places?


Not Amused

Kirsty, the vast majority of people on the BPTC need to be protected from themselves. I understand that part of that process puts extra work on the candidates who were likely to succeed. That is a price worth paying.



I think it’s rather annoying, but a great idea. What I find more frustrating is saying 1,700 people were on the BPTC last year – and NOT saying how many completed the course. Perhaps wrongly, but I was recently told that at least 50% drop out… so really, the competition could be a lot lower, no?



I think it’s a good thing. I wouldn’t imagine it will be too gruelling and purely designed to ensure that those with no chance of passing the BPTC do not gain a place. You will be surprised at the poor quality of some students when you start the course, and will end up wishing some weren’t there – they hold lessons back and can impact on you directly when you are paired with them for advocacy sessions etc.

If you are good enough you will get a place. If the process worries you, it does not bode well for you in terms of being robust enough to go through the pupillage process at the end. If you are not happy just go with a different provider, it looks like it’s only the UoL doing this.



Having completed the Kaplan assessment day a couple of years ago, I can safely say that it wasn’t anything you could easily prepare for save the usual basic interview prep – opinion writing was a very simple CPR issue (I won’t say which in case it’s used at UoL) as was the advocacy exercise, deliberately chosen as there’s no reason you’d have any prior knowledge.



I can’t help but view this very cynically. I have trouble believing they’re more interested in the students’ welfare than their own profits.

My experience with law school providers is that the bar required for a ‘pass’ is very low, so I think it would take exceptional incompetence to fail at the aptitude test stage. I suppose requiring a 2.1 would be a genuine restriction (I don’t see this mentioned in the article, though it was on the headline), but such a blanket policy is patently unfair and I’m sure they’ll be considering individual circumstances. As a result, the drop in students isn’t likely to be that high, if indeed there is a drop at all.

On the other hand, this policy will bring in benefits to the UoL – perceived moral high ground, increased prestige (and thus more applicants), and, ultimately, increased revenue from prep courses, aptitude test fees, and perhaps, ironically, a higher number of enrolled students.

That said, I must admit I don’t know all the facts. It’s been a while since I was at law school and I don’t know how Kaplan implemented it – perhaps it did successfully whittle the students down to those who stood a decent chance.


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